The Dorchester’s annual financial consultation for all staff helps employees understand their pensions and broader savings

Sean Wheeler

The careful care offered to guests at the exclusive hotels in the Dorchester Collection is also extended to its staff, all of whom receive an annual financial review provided by the employer as part of their impressive benefits package.

 

“When I first arrived at the Dorchester, we had a pension provider that was being paid a huge amount of money to send out a joining pack and little else,” says Sean Wheeler, area director of human resources at the Dorchester Collection.

“Take-up of our scheme was very low and from talking to employees it became clear that they didn’t understand the importance or the value of it. The company was contributing a significant amount of money to it, but I felt there was no communication, support or understanding – we have a great scheme, but people weren’t buying into it.”

Impending auto-enrolment has been one of the drivers behind Wheeler’s enthusiasm for staff education. “I wanted people to understand a bit more about the pension scheme, so that they are ready for it when we reach our staging date,” he says.

“We have a great scheme, but people weren’t buying into it!”

Wheeler acknowledges that his own HR team weren’t the best placed to deliver that information. “We didn’t have the resources to address that problem ourselves – we’re not the experts in that area.” Instead, Wheeler appointed Davidson Asset Management (DAM) to help employees have a better understanding of how to make the most of their benefits. 

Every staff member gets an annual benefits review with one of the DAM team to help them understand how much money they are paying into their pension and whether they need to change it. This even extends to night staff, who are seen by DAM at a time to fit in with their shift pattern, rather than during office hours. ”The review makes sure they maximise their pension,” says Wheeler. “We’re helping them for their future.”

While there is a cost impact to offering a generous scheme and encouraging people to use it, Wheeler believes that cost is offset by the benefits to the organisation. “Communicating the benefits package in a holistic way helps people understand the total reward package, not just salary, and that encourages them to stay in the business for longer.”

And, while, after less than two years, it’s too early to quantify the impact on staff retention, Wheeler says that it has “definitely helped with staff engagement – we’ve seen a clear improvement in those scores”.

 “Communicating the benefits package in a holistic way helps people understand the total reward package and encourages them to stay in the business for longer”

The process has led to a 100% increase in sign-up for the pension scheme in the past 12 months. “That’s been down to us explaining the scheme,” says Wheeler. The Dorchester group has also recently introduced salary sacrifice, which is “a win-win for the employer and staff”.

The Dorchester’s workforce encompasses a broad range of different ages and circumstances. “Some of our staff are at an age where the pension is important, but other, younger staff feel that retirement is a lifetime away and they don’t really understand the need for a pension.”

Again, the financial education process has had an impact on younger staff. “We are seeing younger people sign up to the scheme, and realise that if they save a bit now, they won’t have to worry about investing a greater amount later on. Plus, they are missing out on a potential 8% contribution from the employer.”

Employees have even gone on to enlist the help of DAM in advising them on their broader finances, such as mortgages. And while that remains independent of the Dorchester as an employer, Wheeler still sees the benefits from those extended relationships. “As an employer we are there to help with broader finances and to make sure they don’t waste money on bad products.”

“I hope that through educating our employees we can help people make their money go further,” concludes Wheeler. “We have staff with all sorts of different circumstances. Many have to support family overseas, for example, and we have to help them make their money go as far as possible.”